Back in 1990, I was teaching English-as-a-Second Language and most of my adult students were Hmong or Mexican. The one thing we all had in common was we ALL liked spicy food. The week before Thanksgiving we shared recipes for cooking holiday foods. Now, people in Laos don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, nor do they typically eat turkey. But that day Sitong Inthavong gave me a wonderful stuffing recipe that can transform the traditionally hearty, heavy Thanksgiving turkey into something deliciously light and spicy.
This stuffing is not gloppy, fat-infused bread like I’m used to. Rather, it is a coarsely-textured, fragrant mixture of chiles and herbs into which forkfuls of turkey are dipped. The stuffing was extremely easy to make, and my husband and I instantly liked it. What happened the first time we tried it however, was a bit unexpected. As I recall, we were not drinking alcohol at the time, so we can’t blame the experience on booze. And in truth, what we felt was nearly opposite to the soporific inebriation one normally gets when imbibing liquor. About fifteen minutes after beginning the meal, we noticed the flames of the candles dancing, and the glassware sparkled more than its quality warranted. In fact, all of the kitchen lights looked brighter, and the colors around us were richly vibrant. We both started to giggle. We were feeling really good. My husband questioned what I’d put in the stuffing. I told him, and we both shrugged and giggled some more. After eating, we hung out in the living room animatedly telling stories and having a terrific time. The fun lasted about 45 minutes. There were no unpleasant side effects. The next day, I described our meal to a Hmong friend of mine. She chuckled and said, “Yeh, we have a lot of recipes like that.” I wondered, though. She probably just thought I was a bland American who was new to spicy food, and maybe I was. We’ve enjoyed this dish numerous times over the years, and we’ve found that the more stuffing eaten, the happier the meal.